The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that white-nose syndrome, a disease causing illness and death in North American bats has been confirmed for the first time in Michigan.
According to the DNR, WNS has been found in Dickinson, Mackinac and Alpena counties.
"These are the first confirmed WNS cases in Michigan," said Dr. Dan O'Brien, DNR wildlife veterinarian. "Even though we've known this disease was coming, it is a disappointing day. We will now shift gears and try to stop the spread of this serious disease."
Five little brown bats showing the disease's characteristics were collected in February and March during WNS surveillance by researchers from Eastern Michigan University. The bats were diagnosed at Michigan State University's Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.
"At DCPAH we have to have our eye on emerging diseases and prepare our test capabilities early on so that we are ready when the need for testing arises," said Dr. Tom Mullaney, DCPAH's interim director. "We identified the fungus by PCR and through histopathology due to the specific presentation of the lesions. While we regret that this disease has arrived in Michigan, we will work closely with our DNR partners as they continue the next phase of their work."
The disease was first documented in 2006 in upstate New York. According to the DNR, eleven species of bat have been infected and over six million have died. The DNR says that a WNS response plan was developed in 2010, focusing on prevention of the disease and assisting surviving bat populations by preserving abandoned underground mines and caves.
In places hit early with the disease, bat populations are down by 70 to 80 percent in the summer, with winter die-offs in some caves reaching 90 percent.
What does the disease do to bats? According to the DNR, WNS disrupts the hibernation cycle, causing bats to repeatedly wake up from hibernation which quickly depletes their fat reserves. Bats with WNS exhibit unusual behavior, flying during daylight hours or gathering outside caves in cold weather.
The DNR stresses not to handle bats as they are a known carrier of rabies. There are no known effects to humans from WNS, according to the DNR, but a bat could have rabies and should be avoided.
"At this point, there is no effective treatment for WNS and no practical way to deliver the treatment to millions of affected bats even if treatment existed," O'Brien added. "Rehabilitation of bats is prohibited in Michigan because of the potential for the exposure of humans to rabies. The best thing the public can do when they find a dying or dead bat is to leave it alone and keep children, livestock and pets away from it."
Bat die-offs can be reported on the DNR website or by calling the DNR at (517) 336-5030.
The DNR expects that a drastic loss of bats due to WNS could have a significant impact on agriculture and commercial forestry due to an increase in pests harmful to crops and trees. There DNR reports nearly 300,000 bats live in Michigan, with the majority of the U.P.'s population comprised of the little brown bat species.